Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Concussions – Destruction of the Past, Present, and Future

For those of you who were wondering, this is my final “project” before my fall semester begins and I will not be as productive as I have been over the past three months. I hope that this entry stirs your interest as much as it has mine. As I have written previously, I had played organized sports for about fifteen years, and it’s been a huge drive as to what I want to do in the future. However, I noticed that there has been a lot of controversy in organized sports over the past several years, especially when it comes to student-athletes and injury. Today, I’m going to talk about a fresh subject: the brain. I’m also going to talk about the bad things that can be done to the brain, and the future effects that may become of these bad things.
The brain: the center of our nervous system; a center that holds billions and billions of neurons and makes countless synaptic connections each and every day. Our brain is required to make movements, make decisions, and make our difficult lives livable each day. What do you think would happen if something happened to these three-pound ridges of muscle? Would you realize it yourself? Some people might, some other people may not, depending on the severity of the massive effect casted upon the brain. The effects could be from drugs or alcohol, or the main subject of my entry—blunt force or whiplash. While increasing knowledge creates ridges in the brain, negative effects severely age the brain and make it deteriorate, robbing the individual of memories, motor skills, and figuratively, their “minds.”
Due to the extreme increase in competitive injuries and judgments in caring for them, bad results are coming to light, and they are coming to light in individuals as young as preteen years. High school student-athletes are often misdiagnosed, rushed in recovery, and are more susceptible to further brain injury and more concussions. Not only are student-athletes in danger, but professional athletes are also at risk for long-term damage, and we will mention cases for this later on in the entry. When it comes to sports-related concussions, lack of awareness and safety for the young and old is turning into a threat for their futures, as well as the futures of the loved ones around them.
When the brain experiences a concussion, it literally moves around inside your head after a huge blow when it clearly should not. Symptoms may include confusion, clumsiness, slurred speech, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light and sound, among others (WebMD.com). As a person who has once suffered a mild concussion before, I can tell you that it is definitely one of the worst experiences you could ever have. You seriously have no idea what’s going on, and since everyone thought I was alright (I had a soccer ball kicked at my head and it knocked me for a loop) after taking a ball to the head, I kept on playing. When concussions occur in cases such as young children or student-athletes, nobody really knows how to treat someone after experiencing a brain injury unless if they are, well, a doctor. Some make the big mistake in carrying on normal activity the next day as if nothing had ever happened. In reality, the brain is still confused and will take longer to recover unless if the individual rests for a few days. Going to class and doing other activities is not the best idea for someone who has just suffered a brain injury. Nevertheless, life should continue normally after a full recovery, which usually takes up to a week in younger individuals.
However, concussions can often become more common if one is not careful. In heavy contact sports such as soccer, football, and basketball, athletes may often be rushed to recovery due to the high competitive atmosphere in the game itself. Coaches and other higher officials may see the symptoms as “fake” or just “excuses” to not continue play. This lapse in judgment proves to be poisonous for the person in question, as it could determine their mental and emotional status not just now, but in the near future as well. Not just this, but many of the athletes do not fully understand the consequences of constant brain injury and eventual “recovery” from the constant trauma.
Here’s a photo of a healthy brain, and next to it is a photo of a damaged brain.

The right side looks all scabbed-looking, right? Imagine that all over your brain, making it misshaped and decayed. This discoloration represents broken functions, broken memories, and broken emotions.
While watching the news a few months ago, I finally realized how bad this ongoing issue can be. The video packaged presented a college student who had showed signs of mental deficiency and has showed signs of a decrease in reaction time. She was the victim of several concussions that she sustained while playing sports in high school and also in college. After many hits, she can no longer play sports, and her brain and well-being will never be the same. Another young man who played football in high school had also suffered a concussion while practicing, but players and coaches thought nothing of it and believed that the young man was faking his injury. After suffering three concussions in total, he no longer plays sports, but is now studying neuroscience and the long-term effects of concussions (June 1, 2010). To see intelligence and talent be extinguished by misjudgment and malpractice is a complete disgrace and incredibly painful to watch, especially if you have a friend or loved one going through this experience.
The long-term effects of multiple concussions and the views of the brain after years of trauma are absolutely staggering. Over the past several years, brains of dead professional athletes (most of them ex-NFL players) have been viewed and studied in order to study the effects of numerous brain injury. The effects, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), can cause mental and emotional disorders and can even present symptoms and long-term deterioration characterized by Lou Gehrig’s disease. To support this claim, a source from the Associated Press states: “Dr. Ann McKee [Boston University] said she found toxic proteins in the spinal cords of three athletes who had suffered head injuries and were later diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS. Those same proteins have been found in the brains of athletes with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to head injuries that causes cognitive decline, abnormal behavior and dementia” (August 17, 2010). These individuals’ lives are ultimately compared to a massive implosion just waiting to happen. Remember that Rachel Leigh Cook PSA from the 90’s? That’s basically what happens when someone falls apart like this. It’s as if a poison is spreading not just through one person, but to loved ones as well.
Concussions are a very dangerous thing, and they could very easily corrupt someone’s future in their prospective careers. However, with proper treatment, further injury could be avoided and more successful recoveries could be achieved. Seeing a person robbed of emotion, mental capacity, and movements can be very painful to witness. It’s a shame that we’re not made of steel, isn’t it? Retired athletes have gone to the verge of insanity and suicide in their older ages (as in their forties and fifties, literally) because their brains are no longer capable of self-control, and for what? For fame? For their coaches and the team? One thing I’ve learned in the past few months is to be a little selfish sometimes; to not always put others’ needs before your own well-being. In an era of competition, selfishness is thrown on the back burner. The things you do for love and fame, right? It shouldn’t always be like that. We need to learn about what can happen to our bodies when we aren’t careful and what the consequences can be. Safety first.
Thank you for your time in reading this.